Blackduck graduate Brandon Ferdig embarks on a career as a citizen journalist

He was a high school student in Blackduck. He was visiting the home of a classmate’s elderly grandmother when he noticed a photo that piqued his curiosity. It was a photo of the woman and her late husband. Brandon began to ask Grandma about her life.

He still asks a lot of questions. In fact, Ferdig has created a career as a citizen journalist. The 40-year-old Blackduck High School graduate has a multimedia catalog of work that includes documentaries, a YouTube channel, a book, several published stories, podcasts and a weekly newsletter. He has also traveled extensively around the world.

Everything is in this curiosity.

“Yeah, that’s what I always come back to when I think about this job,” Ferdig said. “I would have conversations with older people that most teenagers wouldn’t bother to have.”

Conversations like the one he had with his friend’s grandmother.

“I never met her husband because he passed away before her,” Ferdig recalls. “But there was a picture of them when they were younger. It just struck me that for many years she had been a widow. And I thought how strange that would be or how much of a fit that would be. At the time, you meet someone at 19; you marry them.

“He died in his fifties or sixties, and now she’s been gone for many years. I just asked her, right away, ‘How does it feel to go to bed alone now after? all these years ?’ She actually cried to talk about it. I remember later saying that to my girlfriend, and she just asked me, “Why did you ask that? That’s a tough question. ”But to me, it wasn’t inappropriate. It was thoughtful. And the grandmother didn’t care. She enjoyed the question, I think. So it’s something that I started to understand when I was a teenager, interviewing people. “

During his freshman year of high school, Ferdig took a psychology class with Professor Jerry Sonnek. “I was so intrigued by it that I ended up specializing in it,” he said. He attended Concordia University in St. Paul and graduated from the University of Minnesota, where he also worked at the school’s Center for Twin and Family Research.

“My interest in people was stronger than ever,” he said, “but my interest in laboratory work was not.” He also did an internship at a counseling center, but “didn’t like it either.”

So he decided to start doing freelance journalism, returning to his love of interviewing people. It’s not necessarily a lucrative career, and he’s had to take on other jobs to make ends meet over the years. He sold insurance, taught English abroad, served tables, and worked as a substitute teacher.

During this time, he also traveled the world, visiting or living in places like China, Guatemala, Cuba, Malaysia, and Tanzania.

In addition to his work in the United States, Brandon Ferdig has traveled the world, visiting or living in places such as China, Guatemala, Cuba, Malaysia and Tanzania.  In this photo, he takes a break from harvesting sweet corn with two Tanzanian men.  Contribution / Brandon Ferdig

In addition to his work in the United States, Brandon Ferdig has traveled the world, visiting or living in places such as China, Guatemala, Cuba, Malaysia and Tanzania. In this photo, he takes a break from harvesting sweet corn with two Tanzanian men. Contribution / Brandon Ferdig

After teaching English and living in China for nearly a year, he returned home to the Twin Cities and wrote a book called “Life Learned Abroad. Humanity Lessons from China.”

“For me, traveling is almost a spiritual thing,” Ferdig said. “I can afford to almost just leave my problems at home, my responsibilities like bills, women and status. All that ego stuff. I was free and felt connected to the world. It was just pure curiosity. That’s all I thought. I was not at all good at being strategic in my career. It is a real weakness. I was able to eat and pay the rent somehow.

In recent years, Ferdig has found success with documentaries and YouTube videos. He is able to make money when the coins go viral. An example is an interview with “Arkansas Bill”. Brandon was on a trip to the southern United States when he noticed a messy rural Arkansas house. There was a bed on the lawn, a living donkey, a deer skull. And a fluttering Confederate flag.

“I stopped along the road and started photographing,” Ferdig said. ” He goes out. I was worried. ”But the guy was nice, and the resulting video, titled“ Interview with an Arkansas ‘Redneck’ ”was viewed 4.3 million times. Ferdig posted two follow-up interviews with Bill.

“His videos get comments every day,” Ferdig said. “This is where the power of social media really came to me. When the algorithm is in your favor, it’s the gods now. YouTube for some reason took over my Arkansas Bill video. I can make money with it. When you get into the millions of views, you’re talking about thousands of dollars. So it can be real money.

Another recent documentary on YouTube emerged after Ferdig returned to the Blackduck area for the deer hunt opening last fall. On his way home, he noticed a number of Donald Trump’s flags fluttering in the area, despite the fact that Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election days earlier.

“Trump Country – After Trump” is a 30-minute film featuring interviews with a Hubbard County couple and a Blackduck-area family who are loyal to the former president. It has been viewed 4,700 times since its publication four months ago.

His film titled “The Wall” chronicled life in a Native American homeless tent camp in Minneapolis in 2018. “I documented the rise of this camp known as“ The Wall ”by its 300 Native American residents. “, he wrote. “Then I captured their stories: how they got to this homeless camp, what their days were like and what their hopes were for the future beyond this camp. “

For his most recent project, Ferdig traveled to Los Angeles to film a documentary on homelessness. “Skid Row LA – Worse Than I Thought” was released on July 7th.

Brandon Ferdig visited the slums of Los Angeles for his recent documentary titled "Skid Row LA - Worse than I thought." Contribution / Brandon Ferdig

Brandon Ferdig visited the slums of Los Angeles for his recent documentary titled “Skid Row LA – Worse Than I Thought”. Contribution / Brandon Ferdig

Much of Ferdig’s work can be accessed through his website: ThePeriphery.com. He calls his site “A medium devoted to stories that highlight what we usually miss – through interviews, analysis and taking action.” “

Brandon also started a nonprofit called The Periphery Foundation, which donates the proceeds of his stories to the people presented and the issues addressed.

“It helps people like Arkansas Bill, who lived without electricity,” Ferdig said.


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